What Liz read: Me on book clubs

Andy has gone, he’s buggered off to Turkey for a new job, and I’ve got the flat to myself for two whole months (freeeedooom!). Two months – imagine how much washing up will be waiting for him when he gets back? It’s already piling up, he’ll be in hog’s heaven. And then there’s the rubbish that needs to go out, I’m not even totally sure where that goes, and I think we’ve run out of teabags. But with all the spare time on my hands now that he won’t be around to fill it with cheery whimsy and lessons in world history, which I certainly won’t be filling with housework, I’ve decided to be more productive: more writing etc. I’ve also arrived at the idea that I’d like to join a book club.

After spending perhaps three minutes researching this, I’ve discovered that this isn’t as easy as I’d hoped. The vast majority of the book clubs turned up in my extremely comprehensive investigation – skim reading Google search returns for ‘nonfiction book clubs’ and ‘Wandsworth book clubs’ – have left me with the following options:

  • Joining the Wandsworth WI, who, although almost certainly offer the best cakes, read exactly the sort of Christiany, womany fiction you might expect – mustn’t reads a plenty.
  • Donning a tea dress to do brunch with one of the various ‘girly’ book clubs arranged through the site Meet-Up, but I fear I’m just not interested enough in hearing, or reading about, tricky situations involving an eyebrow pencil.
  • Moving to east London, or south east, an imploding black hole of creativity so immense that no cultural event, be it an art show or a literary pub quiz, can escape it’s iron grasp and take place anywhere else. But I don’t want to live there and am generally too lazy to visit.
  • Subscribing to an online book club – sitting at a laptop typing lengthy rambles into a thread that it’s likely no one will read or appreciate. Well, I have a blog for that.

All the book clubs I could find, even the more interesting few – and more importantly, closer to home such as Clapham Junction Book Club and Tooting Book Club – promise nonfiction (thus they turned up in my search), but predominantly seem to concentrate on fiction: you know, made-up stuff. I’m sure the latest Ian Rankin is great and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is awesome, or whatever, but where’s the, like, real stuff, man? The books about people’s real life journeys, through place and mind, landscape and grief, nature and nurture? Like Jay Griffith’s original exploration of wilderness and the five elements in Wild: An Elemental Journey (not to be confused with the wholly unoriginal, and riddled with TMIWild: A Journey From Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed). Or anything by that old writer’s favourite, W.G. Sebald?

So I’ve no choice but to start my own book club because I like reading nonfiction, largely with a travely/naturey/experimental slant, not made up stuff. Because the problem with made-up stuff is, it’s made-up, and rarely is that as mentally fulfilling as stuff.

At the moment it’s an imaginary book club with one member. One member who will have to fill the roles of chair, as well as treasurer, reading list compiler, tea maker (we’ll have to go to the pub for that now I’ve run out of tea bags), and the drunk one who just comes along to bitch. My first nomination for the reading list, which has been accepted with a landslide 100% of the vote, is The Trip to Echo Falls: Why Writers Drink by Olivia Laing. I have largely chosen this as I’m already reading it.

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking

See you in a month when I will be debating with myself such questions as: ‘Did it give me smiley face or was it a bit meh?’ Please feel free to get hold of a copy (if the shop is anything to go by, shoplifting is ever so ‘now’ this summer) and join in with your thoughts.

Goodbye, Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Station + plane

There are few landmarks as iconic to Londoners as Battersea Power Station. To the rest of the world it’s all about the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, the Shard, but to those of us who call London home those four skinny chimneys are as sweet and homely as a mug of hot chocolate.

To me its emptiness offers a moment of peace in a hectic, jumbled up city. It’s tall and knowing, calm and still. Whenever I’ve been away for long periods of time, the few years I decided to decamp ‘oop north’ for example, it, more than anything else, would make me feel flushed with homesickness when I saw it on TV.

Chelsea Fringe lens thing

‘Arty’ lens thing (being idiots).

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Looking like a total gimp. Again.

A few weeks ago as part of Chelsea Flower Show’s fringe festival, the strip of land in front of the old building was opened to the public for the first time in years. The art installations weren’t particularly memorable, but the chance to get closer to Battersea Power Station was. I’d never noticed the strange romance in its smashed windows, the nesting birds or the rusting coal cranes before.

Battersea Power Station coal cranes close-up

They even had grass growing on them in patches.

Ever since I’ve been dogged by sadness. This week, work is due to start on redeveloping the building (it’s really happening this time). The site’s been bought by a Malaysian consortium – made up of a palm oil plantation, a property group and the state pension fund – who will take it to pieces and start again, rebuilding it minus the decay and the birds. Instead there will be new ‘smart spaces’ – flats, offices and a gym.

Battersea Power Station coal cranes

It was inevitable that it would become something flashy one day, especially considering its fairly central position and notoriety. Of course, I’m happy it’ll be looked after, but I’d become quite attached to the building as it was. Thanks to dozens of failed redevelopments it’s been nothing other than a landmark during my lifetime. It felt like it existed for no other reason than because it was ours, the people who lived nearby, and we loved it.

Battersea Power Station

Despite developers promising a ‘cultural hub’, a community, many of the flats have already been sold to overseas investors. The building will become an international attraction, the famous chimneys part if its brand, and it won’t be ours anymore. Technically the frontage will look similar (it’s Grade II* listed), but there’ll be little of the spirit left of the landmark I loved. When I roll past on the Waterloo train, staring out of the window, there won’t be Battersea Power Station looking back at me, but Malaysian palm oil and Arab black gold.

The fear of homesickness has kept me in London since returning from those years in The North, I was scared of seeing images of the beautiful (to me) landscape and thinking what have I done? But its useless feeling attached to city like London because, no matter how long you’ve been here, it will never love you back. Not unless you’ve got an outrageous amount of cash anyway. Perhaps it’s time to move on.

Battersea Power Station, coal cranes, sunset

As you can see, bit obsessed with these coal cranes (made in Bath, by the way)

We’re cleaning up the Wandle

Wandle clean up

There’s a certain romance to the River Wandle. Most of it’s hidden behind walls or pushed underground in concrete tunnels, the bits we do see are small and often littered with Lucozade bottles and broken washing machines. But despite our best efforts to hide it, dirty its waters and forget it even, it just keeps on flowing.

It’s funny how we treat nature in London. We seem to bully it, as though giving it an occasional kicking will somehow make it go away. I don’t think Londoners hate nature, I just think, for the most part, we fear it. In a fast moving city, we like our landscape to be straight forward and simple to understand.

The Wandle was once famed for brown trout fishing attracting, amongst others, Admiral Nelson to its waters. After a chemical spill a few years ago destroyed what was left of the natural population, the trout have recently been reintroduced. The water is so clear now that, despite the odd bit of crap, it has become a crucial reserve for the endangered London eel (European variety, not jellied). There’s even a nature reserve up towards Carshalton, the wonderfully named Wilderness Island.

In the 19th Century the Wandle became the most industrialised river in the world for its size, attracting textiles mills from William Morris, of wallpaper fame, and Liberty, of expensive fancy pants fame. There is even a theory that The Mill on The Floss by George Eliot – who lived in Holly Lodge in Southfields after she fell out with her family over a relationship with a married man – was set on her waters.

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Not my best shot but who knows, perhaps waders will be my new look for s/s ’13

The Wandle Trust organise a river clean up on the second Sunday of every month, anyone can volunteer. There are two jobs: picking through the river for rubbish, which means you get to wear waders, and collecting said rubbish, which means you get to play about with a wheelbarrow. I opted for waders on what turned out to be just about the coldest day of the month. Needless to say, I was in dire need of a cup of tea after a few hours getting absolutely soaked (must wear waterproofs under waders).

I can’t help but think that if the river was a single living, breathing entity, that all the rubbish we throw into it would somehow be feeding it. Perhaps one day, it will rise against us, taking strength from what we always thought was waste and force us to become its fleshy slaves.